Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Test Kitchen | Narins & Griswold - 09/30/2010

9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 277-0133

I had known of the duo of Rachel Narins and Suzanne Griswold, the ominously titled Chicks with Knives, for sometime but never found the opportunity to try their cooking. Therefore I made a point to attend their evening at Test Kitchen. As an added moral bonus, a portion of the evening's proceeds would go to rootdownLA, an organization that uses education to confront the problem of childhood obesity in South Los Angeles.

01: Green Beans - Blue Lake Green Beans, Orange-Cardamom Aioli, Nasturtium
The meal opened with a shared plate of green beans covered in a thin layer of bruleed tempura batter. The batter was indeed quite crisp, similar to the layer of crystallized sugar on a creme brulee, though I would have preferred a more substantial body, the light application preserved the natural temper of the beans. Somewhat austere on their own, the orange-cardamom aioli was crucial in giving the dish some complexity and levity

Notorious F.I.G. - Bruleed Fig, Rum, Calvados, Averna
I assumed this was a repeat of a drink served during the BALLS dinner a couple of weeks back the drinks were alike in name only. The fig was a subtle thing here, with the dark molasses notes and unadulterated heat of the rum coming to the fore.

Primio Strega Swizzle - Strega, Pineapple, Lime, Roasted Black Pepper Syrup
Where the Notorious F.I.G. was potent the Swizzle was approachable. The sweet tang of pineapple comes through clearly tinged with a subtle spiciness from the pepper syrup.

Chicken Liver Pate - with Port Wine Gelée
The evening's menu also featured three Bar Bites but the only one not also featured on the menu was the pate. A very straightforward presentation the liver offered a concentrated essence of iron and offal. Using a gelée to temper the forcefulness of the liver was a good idea but I thought a more saccharine implementation would have fared better than the alcoholic flavor of the port.

02: Potato Potato - Potato Buttermilk Soup, Potato Chips
Here we had all the elements of a classic baked potato. Unfortunately the buttermilk was overwhelming, overshadowing the potato itself and giving the soup a decidedly sour cast. The house made chips were a nice addition, thick, crisp, and deliciously salty though not enough to balance out the dish.

Rosemary's Baby - Gin, Maraschino, Green Chartreuse, Flamed Rosemary
A refreshing and unabashedly vegetal cocktail, the aromatics of the gin and chartreuse are heightened by the bitter fragrance of the rosemary.

Cynar Sour - Cynar, Orgeat, Lemon, Angostura Bitters
Easily the favorite of the night. At once bitter, sweet, and sour, the cynar added a distinctive slightly vegetal twist on the finish.

03: A Nice Salad - Fennel, Persimmon, Celery, Chorizo
Easily the best course of the night, this salad offered a level of complexity and grace absent in the rest of the dishes. The salad combined the unique flavors of the sweet fruit, crisp herbaceous vegetables, and unctuous smoky sausage into a wonderfully balanced whole.

04: Ravioli - Rabbit Ravioli, Parsnip Soufflé
The rabbit and parsnip paired nicely, but the accompanying carrot broth was cloyingly sweet which detracted from the duo's gamy sapor and marked vegetal savoriness.

05: Wood Fired Herring - Herring, Onion, Mustard, Pear
Herring by default is an aggressively flavored fish and though I enjoy it, even I felt it was a bit overwhelming here; still the vividly spicy mustard helped matters somewhat. More distracting than the flavor, was the plethora of tiny bones which made the fish something of a chore to eat.

06: Rib Eye - Poached Rib Eye, Juniper, Parsley Root
I had high hopes for this course, poaching a steak sous vide can yield simply wonderful results and particularly with a cut as fatty as rib eye. Puzzlingly, the beef turned out somewhat tough, but I did enjoy the verdant tinge of the juniper against the richness of the beef. The parsley root puree had a flavor reminiscent of a tropical fruit, enjoyable on its own but disconcerting when paired with the flavor of the beef.

07: Trio of Autumn Flavors - Pumpkin Pot de Créme, Chocolate, Beet, Apple Tart Tatin
We were happy to see dessert turn out well after the last few courses, though given Suzanne Griswold's background in pastry this wasn't too surprising. The pumpkin pot de creme and its accompanying cranberry sorbet proved to be a delectable combination of sweet and sour. Meanwhile the distinctive flavor of beet sugar turned what would have been a textbook chocolate cake into something memorable. Even the apple tart had a slight twist, a boozy heat that complimented the spiced apple nicely.

Ultimately for me the meal was something of a let down. I think it may have been a matter of personal taste rather than execution, many of the dishes had flavors that simply didn't work for me. Still I'd be interested to see how the duo does outside of the Test Kitchen and in their normal environs.

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